February is African Heritage Month and a secondary school in Cole Harbor hopes to bring about change by looking back 230 years.
Dubbed Project #1792, students at Auburn Drive High School wrote letters to more than 1,000 passengers on 15 ships that fled Nova Scotia to Sierra Leone in the late 18th century in search of better living conditions in the African nation.
During the American Revolution, the British Crown promised freedom and land to Black Loyalists in exchange for their support against the insurgency of American patriots opposed to British rule.
However, when the war ended in 1783, these promises were not kept and the approximately 3,500 Black Loyalists who found themselves in Nova Scotia faced harsh racism and economic exploitation. Soon nearly 80 families were organizing and deciding to leave Nova Scotia on a series of ships bound for British-held Sierra Leone.
“(Students) were very intrigued because they heard about Black Loyalists through migration,” says Karen Hudson, principal of Auburn Drive High School, who helped create the #1792Project.
“(But) to talk a little more about the 1,196 Black Loyalists who went out to talk about their journey and their obstacles and barriers, and then to talk about their perseverance and courage to get on that boat and go to Sierra Leone, I think this intrigued the students.
The letter-writing campaign began after Hudson made a presentation to the community sector board. Among those who attended the speech was activist Kathrin Winkler, who suggested Hudson write a letter to sailors for a possible art installation.
As an educator, you can participate in the #1792project by having your students write a letter to Black Loyalists. Our goal is to have 1,196 letters by March 15. Send your students’ letters to Karen Hudson at Auburn High School. See details and example below: pic.twitter.com/JAxvnuJjzm
— Megan Neaves (@MeganNeaves_) February 1, 2022
Hudson agreed and also asked his students to join in – inviting them to write letters intended to forge a connection with 18th century black Loyalists. Thus, the art installation, titled Message in a Bottle: 15 Ships to Sierra Leone, was part of the Nocturne Festival in October.
“It was an opportunity to learn more about the history of Black Loyalists and find out what happened to those Loyalists who went to Sierra Leone,” Hudson says of why she involved students in installation.
“Now we call it the Book of Letters so it will continue until the end of March,” Hudson continues of continuing Project #1792 during African Heritage Month. “So (we’re trying) to try to encourage schools across the province to get involved in this important campaign.”
As part of the project, schools are invited to convene students from all walks of life to write a letter to a sailor in 1792 from today’s perspective with the aim of gaining “a deeper understanding of the causes and conditions that led to the exodus”.
“I hope people will see later that these are experiences of today’s students and what they pass on to seafarers who have been there and what they want them to know about what is happening here in Nova Scotia today.
– Karen Hudson
The work can take the form of traditional letters, poetry or art and will be compiled in the project’s Book of Letters.
“Our goal is to get 1,196 (letters) to represent the number of people who got on one of those 15 boats to Sierra Leone,” says Hudson, who adds that the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic will eventually feature the Book of Letters.
“If we get more, we’ll have two to give them,” adds Hudson. “I hope people will see later that these are experiences of today’s students and what they pass on to seafarers who have been there and what they want them to know about what is happening here in Nova Scotia today.
For more information on Project #1792, visit the Auburn Drive High School website abn.hrce.ca.